Diogo Ramalho’s Sarcastic Comedy

In Lisbon, when walking up to 30 Rua do Monte Olivete, the storefront shows us a painting that actually resembles a relic. The relic is a metal plate (later we find that it is actually a working die) with a reversed inscription that requires some effort until we can finally read “Trouble in Paradise”. This is the inflammatory title of exhibited assembled by the architect and designer Diogo Ramalho, his first solo at Espaço Real.

“It all started with the intention of creating a book”, the curator Inês Nunes explains, invited by the gallerist Gonçalo Conde. “But, halfway through the process, Diogo decided to deconstruct that same book to create the structure we now see here”. That structure is an exhibition that revolves around the construction of the book itself as an object. As a matter of fact, that object-book was actually created and is the exhibition’s centrepiece. In the same room, on the walls, there are three large-format images which, after careful observation, are identified as three black printing plates (white is the absence of color), representing each of the three subjects of the exhibition. Finally, scattered throughout one of the walls, there are 78 photographic spreads, as well as the die used to print the book title, which is the key figure in the space’s showcase.

The different subject matters approached, hell, purgatory and paradise, “are an allegorical reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy”, the author declares, “and both the book, the spreads and the printing plates are divided to represent each of the three acts”. The spreads, which at first seem to be nothing but photographs, have details such as “cutting marks and auxiliary captions, just as if they were printed book pages, albeit raw, before cutting and assembling”, Diogo Ramalho adds. In hell, the author attempted to depict “chaos, the exaggeration of human activity”. On the other hand, in purgatory, we find “the absence of people, who are replaced by their work, the architecture, which imposes itself as something between places and fuels expectation”. Finally, in paradise, we encounter “a representation of human presence, particularly through garden statues, as a grotesque replica of humanity”, the author explains.

The book images (some spreads portray only sentences, like the lines of the dwarves in the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) were picked from the author’s own archive, taken over the last ten years. They are all black and white “to avoid colour-fuelled distraction” and are often (if not always!) dominated by a filter of sarcasm and social satire. “Every photograph implies a geographic question”, Inês Nunes explains, “we never know exactly where we are and that was intentional”. Effectively, although in some photographs we may see the overcrowded pools of Las Vegas hotels, or the garden ornamentation encountered in several Portuguese roads, the coherence doesn’t rely on the geography, but rather on the social critique that reinforces the message’s universality.

The exhibition, inaugurated on 6 June, is opened until 6 July. The author will be also present every Friday to welcome and personally guide the guests through these three ironic yet cruelly real acts of our society. In the end, we cannot help themselves but feel that our own concepts of hell and paradise have been distorted, to the point where we can no longer make a clear distinction between good and bad, divine and profane. After all, and as emphasized by Diogo Ramalho, “some things are much more hellish in paradise than in hell, where some are even desirable. There is this permanent contamination between them”.

Trouble in Paradise, 6 June 6 – 6 July, 2019, curated by Inês Nunes. At Espaço Real, Rua do Monte Olivete, 30, 1200-424, Lisbon, from Tuesday to Saturday, 3 pm to 8 pm.

By Pedro Rei

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